In the world of edible mushrooms, the morel is one of the most coveted and tastiest species. In spring, the very seasonal mushrooms can be found in forests throughout the northern hemisphere among leaf litter around dead elms, sycamore, apple and ash trees. Despite their popularity, the mushrooms are difficult to cultivate indoors. Although some attempts have been made, the yield and quality of the product varies.
Now Danish biologists Jacob and Karsten Kirk, who are also twins, have found a reliable way to grow large quantities of morels indoors in a climate-controlled environment all year round, reports Alla Katsnelson for the New York Times. The technique is the culmination of four decades of research carried out in collaboration with the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University and the University of Copenhagen, according to a statement. The cultivation method produces 4.2 kilograms of mushrooms over a 22-week growth cycle, which equates to about 10 kilograms of mushrooms per square meter, or 20 pounds of mushrooms per square yard, per year.
Morels are wild mushrooms that are three to six inches tall. They have a cone-shaped, wrinkled lattice cap that ranges in color from cream to chocolate brown. They are prized in the culinary world for their earthy and nutty flavor, reports Lauren Rothman for tasting table. (Rothman recommends enjoying them in a springtime pasta dish or sliced on toasted bread with high-quality butter.) Fresh morels sell for $50 a pound, or $200 a pound if dried New York Times.
“The cost per square meter for the production of a morel will be about as high as that of a white mushroom,” says Karsten Kirk New York Times. Growing the mushrooms indoors could reduce the cost of the mushrooms.
Cultivated morels have some advantages and benefits that eaten morels lack. Cooks find that morels grown in nature contain dirt, slugs and bugs, and while the dirt and pests can be washed off, wetting the cap degrades their texture. Too much sun or rain can also wreak havoc on the cap’s signature folds New York Times.
Unlike other wild mushrooms, the prized mushrooms are difficult to cultivate due to an extra step in their life cycle, the sclerotium. To germinate in spring, the sclerotium can either form new mycelium, the root-like network of underground filaments, or they can form a fruiting body, the aerial fungus.
Breeders can quickly force the sclerotium to form new mycelium, but forcing it to form the fruiting body is difficult. In order to produce the fungus, certain nutritional conditions, humidity, carbon dioxide levels and temperatures must be met.
The Kirk brothers describe their story – from the first experiment to the final product – on their website The Danish Morel Project. The duo examined optimal growth conditions, created cultivation trays and climate chambers and mixed a special mixture of morel soil. Based on observations in nature, the Kirk brothers found, among other things, grass in the soil that stimulates the mycelium of the morel mushroom New York Times reports.
They also identified ideal genetic variants for mass production. Her best strain is Variant 195, a type of black morel that develops quickly and can be harvested early.
Their direct methods of cultivating the morels indoors are not fully described as they are protected by patents, they say Danish Morel project Website. The couple say commercial production can begin once the cultivation process has been properly automated.